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Elderly Renters Object to Expansion Plans : Disabled Center to Leave W. Hollywood

September 17, 1987|BARBARA BAIRD | Times Staff Writer

A residential center for young adults with learning disabilities has abandoned an attempt to expand its program in a West Hollywood apartment building occupied mostly by senior citizens.

The nonprofit Independence Center, founded by a parents group a year ago, is designed to provide the young people with experience in living independently.

Six program participants occupy three apartments in the 19-unit building owned by the center at 8220 W. Norton Ave.

The center had hoped to expand to nine apartments, with up to 15 participants.

However, after months of negotiations, hearings and mediation attempts, the center has sold the building and will look elsewhere for facilities, said Sandy D. Gordon, president of the center's board of directors.

City officials said the center's permit request prompted some "very difficult" decisions because it brought into conflict two important city goals: providing affordable housing and helping residents with special needs.

"On the one hand, the city feels it has the responsibility to provide care for people in need," said Mark Winogrond, director of the city's Community Development Department.

"But on the other hand," he said, "the city doesn't want to bring fear into its neighborhoods by creating the possibility that people might be displaced. It's a real dilemma."

'Prejudice Issue'

Center officials said that elderly tenants in the Norton Avenue building mistakenly feared that they would be evicted so the learning disabled young adults could move in. The center had no intention of evicting tenants or raising rents but planned to move in the young adults gradually as apartments became vacant, said Gordon.

She said that prejudice against the disabled had a role in tenants' objections to the program's expansion.

"The tenants said it was a good program and our young adults were nice, (but said in effect) 'Just don't put them next door to us,' " Gordon said. "The bottom line was a prejudice issue."

Nancy Greenstein, deputy to Councilman John Heilman, said that most of the building's occupants are elderly who were concerned that their apartment complex might be turned into an institution.

Tenants' fears were exacerbated, she said, because the center did not immediately inform residents of its plans when it bought the building.

In a hearing in April, Winogrond refused to grant the center's permit request, and in May the Planning Commission upheld his ruling.

A mediation effort by the Neighborhood Justice Center failed to reach an agreement between the center and tenants, she said.

Gordon said that the center had planned to appeal to the City Council, but decided instead to sell the building and seek a location outside West Hollywood.

"It is so ironic that we particularly chose West Hollywood because of the reputation it has for accepting persons with special needs," said Gordon, whose son has a learning disability.

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